Notes & Queries

The Book Arrives (Alphabet)

Strawberries. Sunbathing snakes.  The first garden vegetables, the first swim in the lake, the last days of school, the long, golden evenings…  I write in the garden, lying in a hammock that’s shaded by an old cherry tree;  in a branch above me a robin pecks at the fruit, splattering my legs with  tiny drops of juice.

The house is sunk in shade. Someone has been to the mailbox: waiting on the kitchen table, along with a wad of junk mail, is  a padded envelope  that  I know must contain  a finished copy of Alphabet. I was told it was on its way but all the same the actual presence of it – the book, the final object, here in my house,  gives me a jolt. I feel it’s something to be handled with care: will it be the colour we discussed, as opposed to the anaemic hue that showed up on my computer screen some weeks ago? Will the text have survived the  printing process or will there  be some terrible mistake, such as a chapter upside down or an overlooked typo in the blurb? Will I look at it and want to run away?   After all, it’s over a year since I sent the manuscript to W&N and nine months since we finished editing it. And that’s just the recent history. It is also at least ten years since I  first conceived of the  book,   over three since I started it  for the second time…  And now this thing has arrived!
I’m about to put it back on the table and leave it for a while when Jim, four, appears and asks ‘Have you got a present, mummy?’ Becki, seven, is close behind: ‘Can I open it for you?’ she says, and Richard, following them both, laden with all the stuff they  can’t or won’t carry for themselves realizes straightaway what I’m holding: ‘That must be your book!’ They are all three staring at me, so I go for it, rip open the seal.

The colour is right (spooky, Becki says) – I can see that much straight away. A flick through shows that the layout changes were made, that nothing is upside down and all the chapters are there. It looks good. I can breathe again, but I’ll need to screw up a little more courage in order to actually read it. Before long, of course, other people will be doing that too. The story will have a life of its own. It’s wonderful, terrible. Both.